Thursday, July 31, 2008

Missed My Train

I ended up driving in today because I missed my first train. And if I waited for the next train, I would have been super late to work. Blah!

The MetroWest Daily News ran an article today about the sorry state of the Natick Center commuter rail station. The tracks flood. The passenger platform is deteriorating. And like so many other stations, there isn't enough parking for all the passengers.
Adam Sowalsky, a rider since 2004, has been frustrated by delays throughout the year, and pointed to flooding as one problem that should be preventable. Twice this summer after major storms, the MBTA closed the line when water covered the tracks and substituted bus service.

"Really, it happens whenever there is a serious rainstorm," Sowalsky said. "We (commuter rail users) joke there is always something - in summer it's rain and heat restrictions, in fall it's leaves and in the winter, mechanical issues."

Complicating matters is the fact that the Natick station is on the Worcester-Framingham line. The tracks are owned by CSX.

Since we seem to be experiencing statewide transportation issues, it is good to hear that elected officials who listen to their commuting constituents are making progress. I would love to see all the state reps and senators representing towns along the Worcester-Framingham line take the lead of Rep. Linsky and Rep. Peisch:
State Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick, said he and state Rep. Alice Peisch have been "thorns in the sides" of MBTA officials over the condition of the train station. Their efforts have yielded some results.

"The secretary of transportation (Bernard Cohen) informed us in June this year that they have a two-step project under way," Linsky said. "The first step, this summer, is to replace both platforms. Then the second stage of the project will be next summer when they replace the stairway."

In other train news, more about the possibly Middleborough MBTA/MBCR commuter rail station.

Finally, in the "nice employer" news, MIT has announced new commuting benefits. Here are some of the highlights:
  • MIT will increase the subsidy of MBTA commuter rail passes up to 50% for all zones. This subsidy will initiate in October 2008. (Currently 600 MIT employees use the commuter rail).
  • Free transit passes will be offered during the month of September 2008 to employees who park at MIT 5 days a week to encourage employees to try public transportation.
MIT even has a transportation-related section on its website. Pretty cool. Some new features to this transportation portal include carpool matching, park and ride location information, a MBTA commuter cost calculator, and information about the "Emergency Ride Home" program for transit and bike commuters.

It is way cool to see an employer take the initiative to encourage employees to use mass transit and to help subsidize the costs. It is like giving your employees a raise and helping the environment. I, for one, would love to only pay $125 a month for my Zone 8 pass.

Great job, MIT!!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ashland Bottlenecks and News from Lincoln

Train Rider is working from home today, due in part to an overnight conference call.

I saw a news report this morning on WCVB-TV Channel 5 about how train operators are trying to promote the use of trains versus tractor-trailer trucks for moving products in the US. I can't find a comparable article about this online. Essentially, train operators are saying that it is cheaper and more environmentally friendly to ship products via the rail than in trucks. Tractor trailers can cause gridlock, meaning that consumers are hit with a double-whammy between spending money on gas sitting in traffic and the higher cost of products. The truck lobbyists noted that most of the US is structured so that shipping by rail can't totally eliminate trucks.

Along the lines of rail companies, there was an article in today's The MetroWest Daily News about officials from the town of Ashland telling CSX officials that they need to be more careful about triggering traffic signals at downtown rail crossings. When the traffic signals accidentally go off, traffic in Ashland bottlenecks. There was one incident earlier this month when downtown traffic came to a standstill for 25 minutes.

WickedLocal Lincoln published a story yesterday about the dire financial straits of the MBTA. Caroline Conner, Lincoln's representative to the MBTA Advisory Committee was quoted saying the following:
Connor said she believes the state should assume the debt to allow the MBTA to present a balanced budget.

“It’s putting a band-aid on the problem. It’s not going to improve anything. The simple objective is really to get back to square one,” she said.

Lincoln Selectperson Sara Mattes noted the following:

(T)he commuter rail project was of particular interest to Lincoln given all the development and traffic activity around Route 128. Mattes said the state needs to make “a real commitment to mass transit” and called upon Gov. Deval Patrick to show stronger leadership to solve the state’s transportation problems.

“One would think at some point a light bulb would go off that it’s more cost effective to invest in the MBTA,” Mattes said.

Finally, a great comment to yesterday's Boston Metro Q&A post came in this morning. Here is an excerpt:

Here's one thing I wish the MBTA (or MBCR or whatever agency is responsible for it this week) would do with their present resources: schedule trains with the appropriate number and type of cars. Many of the rush hour express and local trains are usually one car short or they do not have enough double-deckers. Lately, I've noticed more single than double-decker cars. What's frustrating is that I also notice that the reverse traffic trains are ALL double-deckers and not missing any cars. Next time you get off the train in the evening, hang around a few minutes for the next inbound train and count the number of double-deckers. I usually wait in the parking lot until all of the demolition derby drivers have left the lot (yes, I've seen accidents and hit-and-runs at the Southborough and Westborough stations in the last year, but I digress).

If the appropriate type and number of train cars were properly scheduled, then overcrowding can be alleviated.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

7/28 Boston Metro Q&A with MBTA GM Danny G

We forgot to add this yesterday and this morning.

The Boston Metro published yet another Q& A with MBTA GM Dan Grabauskas. I could start to use some adjectives to describe my own personal feelings about "Danny G," but in the interest of good karma, I'll just skip over that.

Inal Olmez submitted the latest question. Inal is a commuter rail rider and the question is most pertinent to those of us who ride the rails to and fro the 'burbs.
I am curious why the same system for collecting fares on the T system has not been implemented for the commuter train. It seems at least twice a week I am on a train that is so crowded that the conductors are not able to walk the aisles. As a result none of the fares are collected. As a person who purchases a monthly pass it is frustrating to know that many people are getting a free ride while I pay regardless of the situation.
What's Danny boy's answer. I won't go into the boring details. Dan seems to pontificate instead of just answering Inal's question. Danny G. proceeded to talk about the stupid new program, "Buy Before You Board," which many people don't think too highly of (and apparently neither do the conductors).

Maybe Dan knows that people don't love "Buy Before You Board." Instead of attributing the campaign to the T, he made sure that readers know the MBCR came up with the new program. Nice way to continue passing the buck, Mr. MBTA GM.

I know some people may come back and comment that "Buy Before You Board" is perhaps the best transit marketing campaign of 2008. Or that Danny G. is great at his job. If so, that's great. That's the spirit of this blog - personal opinion. My opinion of Dan Grabausakas happens to be pretty low. It's hard to respect someone who doesn't even attempt to use the services of the agency he's the head of. And its even harder to respect someone who just seems to pass the buck.

Zippy Commute

Here's a midday post, due in part to conference calls and webinars.

My morning commute was good. It seemed to zip by, probably because I was engrossed in reading my latest book The House at Riverton. The P508 arrived to South Station at 8:21 a.m.

I will be working from home tomorrow. I have an overnight webinar with clients in a time zone far, far away. So I'm hoping my return trip home this evening will be as zippy and pleasant as this morning's commute.

Before I wrap up this post, I did want to comment on the "Free rides for MBTA workers" article from this morning's Herald that Commute-a-holic posted. Along with sharing how MBTA workers use a T-supplied vehicle 24/7, I would like to know how many parking spaces on main streets here in Boston are reserved for "city" officials? And are "city reserved" parking spaces only used by vehicles owned/operated by the City of Boston, or do agencies like the T get to park their cars in these special spots. I'm just curious about this, as I see a lot of these spots all over the city.

MetroWest Bus to the Green Line and More T Employment Hijinks

Picking up from yesterday's news, the video report is from a NECN report about the T's busiest year ever.

Yesterday's The MetroWest Daily News also ran a story about a new bus service that would link Framingham-Natick to the MBTA's Woodland Station. We first mentioned this on Friday. There was a bit more detail in yesterday's article. The MetroWest Regional Transit Authority would like to run one bus an hour from MetroWest to Woodland. The plans call for the bus stopping on Flutie Pass, which is located between Shopper's World and the Natick Mall/Natick Collection. Flutie Pass hovers between the Framingham and Natick town lines. The bus could also extend into some office parks in western Framingham.

All in all, the bus trip would be expected to last one hour. This line could be up and running by January 2009, if the budget is approved. While MetroWest residents would benefit from this service, it is also expected to help out the people who reverse commute from Boston and immediate suburbs into MetroWest.

For the second time this week, The Boston Herald has published an article about the T's mismanagement. Say what you want, this is certainly the Herald's forte. Today's topic: 65 MBTA employees drive to work (and to "emergencies") in cars paid for by the Authority. The MBTA pays $16,650 each month in gas alone!!! The cars are solely for professional purposes and the T claims that the employees who have access to this perk are on call 24/7.

Wow - they have 65 employees on call 24/7, 365 days a year? Call me a skeptic, call me critical, but don't call me gullible. I just don't believe it. I've worked in departments where employees are on call 24/7. When I was employed by Massport in a critical mission function, most employees on call 24/7 where on call for a specific period of time. Ditto the IT teams I've worked on - usually on-call employees are on rotation.

When pressed for an answer, the T's spokesperson could not specify which car-gifted employees aren't on call.

At least someone is looking out for the interest of tax payers and the users of this debt-plagued system:

Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA advisory board, demanded T
officials justify why some non-emergency workers are allowed to drive home.

"I'd like to hear an explanation of why someone who isn’t an emergency
responder would get a vehicle,” Regan said. “(The agency) should be guarding
every dime because they’re going to need it this year”


The Herald also noted that the employees with cars live as close to the city as Quincy (um, keep your car parked at the State Transportation Building and use the Red Line, commuter rail or commuter boat to commute to work) or as far away as Plymouth (a 40-mile one-way trip in). As previously noted, MBTA GM Dan Grabauskas lives in Ipswich. I believe he has a 50 to 60 mile one way commute.

Along with the 65 take-home vehicles, the T also funds 17 "pool" vehicles. The pool vehicles are used "in the event of an emergency."

For an agency so mired in debt, perhaps they can make some reductions that common Americans are making. If they eliminated the 65 take-home vehicles, they would be seeing a savings of nearly $200,000 in gas alone, never mind insurance, maintenance and all the other costs associated with cars.

Finally, from Newsweek, road rage among bicycle commuters in Oregon. Portland has always had a high number of residents who bicycle around town. In the past year, the number of bicyclists has increased 24%.

Monday, July 28, 2008

US Transportation Infrastructure Woes

There is a great article from today's The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about how cutbacks in driving are impacting both the federal highway system and mass-transit expansion projects.

The US Department of Transportation released a report that notes over the past 7 months, Americans have reduced their driving by over 40 billion miles. In the Northeast, which incorporates both New England along with New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, there was a 4.2% reduction in vehicle travel from May 2007 to May 2008.

While the cutbacks are good in terms of some federal policy goals such as curbing emissions and reducing oil consumption, from a funding standpoint this is not a positive situation. Federal fuel taxes largely help to finance highway and mass transit systems. As oil costs rise, so does the price for construction materials including asphalt. These factors make the road, bridge and train infrastructure that much more costly to maintain.

Of course, cities, states and the Feds didn't do a great job of maintaining our transportation infrastructure before the substantial rise in fuel costs started to impact our country.
About 25% of bridges in the U.S. are either "functionally obsolete" or "structurally deficient," like the Mississippi River bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis last August, killing 13 people.
Scary! I know some of the roads that I use frequently have been impacted by bridge issues. In Grafton, alone, a major bridge has been out of service for years. And it looks like a bridge is being repaired in the Millbury center area. Who knows how long that will take to fix? And look at the havoc the Longfellow Bridge that connects Boston and Cambridge has raised this summer.

Along with bridges, one out of every seven miles of the nation's roads has been rated "not acceptable" by the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission. To get our roads up to snuff, the Commission said that $225 billion a year is needed. Our current spending level is 40% that figure. Yikes!
The Bush administration is expected to release as early as Monday figures projecting a deficit of $5 billion or more in the Highway Trust Fund for next year. Thanks to steady increases in driving, since it was set up under President Dwight Eisenhower, the trust historically has run a surplus. It steers gasoline-tax revenue through a federal appropriations process before sending it back to the states.

This issue alone has sent lobbyists for business groups into overdrive on Capital Hill. Last Wednesday, the House passed an $8 billion bill for highway and mass-transit projects. This bill is expected to pass through the Senate, even though the President has some reservations. And on Thursday, an additional $1 billion for bridge repair was approved by Congress. In 2009, Congress is considering approving a six-year transportation bill that would include more than $400 billion in spending.

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said administration officials are crafting an overhaul plan aimed at shaping the debate. The goal would be to give states more flexibility to set transportation spending, while making it easier for them to tap private-sector dollars. Also under consideration: asking Congress to loosen restrictions on states levying new tolls on interstate highways.

Experts do not think that driving rates will "bounce back" like they did after the gas crises in the 1970s.

Amtrak ridership is up 11% this year. Mass transit systems in areas including Seattle and Florida have seen ridership spikes of more than 30%.

Earlier this year, the House passed legislation that would provide an additional $1.7 billion to transit agencies over two years. Both chambers have passed bills that would significantly boost Amtrak funding.

Super Monday Morning Commute

My commute was fine this morning. The P508 arrived on time. We were at South Station by 8:20 a.m.

Thought this editorial from today's The Eagle-Tribune was interesting. Surprised we haven't heard about this story at all.

21 Million More MBTA Riders in FY 2008 vs. FY 2007

The MBTA released ridership numbers for its Fiscal Year 2008. It was a good year, ridership wise, for the T. Nearly 375 million people used the T, the highest ridership number in the MBTA's 44 year history. There were 21 million more riders in this fiscal year compared to last year, a 6% increase.

You can read all about it in an articles from today The Boston Globe. The article mention that the T is just only starting to look at ways to accommodate more riders. The Chicago Transit Authority is considering removing seats from their train cars to fit more people. The MBTA's own SUV-riding GM Dan Grabauskas made the following statement:
It is too early to say, Grabauskas cautioned, whether the MBTA would consider a similar move. "Literally," he said, "I only learned of it in the past week."

But at a time when people are forced to squeeze into rush-hour trains in Boston, the agency is willing, Grabauskas said, to consider just about anything, including, possibly, seatless cars. "It certainly is an idea with some merit."

Dan - way to be thinking ahead. I won't get into a bashing session, but boy do you open yourself up to criticism.

The Massachusetts Public Interest Group noted the following:

"This is an opportunity where people are experimenting with public transportation," Bourassa said. "And if the T does a good job and provides good service, more people are going to use it and we're going to keep those riders. But if the T has to raise fares because of high debt costs and high fuel costs, or if they have to cut service because of that, then we will have missed that opportunity."

The Boston Metro reported that 67.8% of the T's subway riders are using the CharlieCard to pay for their trips in June 2008. Overall, 90% of riders either use a CharlieCard or a discounted monthly pass. Next year, the T will be rolling out a pilot program where commuter rail riders can pay for their parking using the automated cards. By 2011, CharlieCards are expected to be used across the entire T system - subway, bus, commuter rail, and commuter boat.

Finally, a typical Boston Herald article about T salaries. Unreal!

Friday, July 25, 2008

MBCR Service Update for South Station Derailment

Just received the following from the MBCR RailMail:



MBCR would like to extend our apologies to all our passengers who were affected by last night’s derailment outside of South Station. This incident impacted all trains moving in and out of the station causing terminal congestion for this morning’s commute.

While the coaches that were derailed were successfully removed and brought to the yard, the track damage left behind needs to be repaired before service can be completely restored.

In the interim, we will begin running limited service on the Fairmount line starting with the 3:44p.m (train 767) from South Station. For departure times on all subsequent trains on this line please go to the South Station Information booth, as the train times may need adjustment. We would ask that all passengers on all lines arrive at the station for the regularly scheduled departure time for their train.

Due to terminal congestion, our Greenbush and Old Colony line customers should expect delays of up to 20 minutes. All other lines should expect delays up to 10 minutes for trains departing both South Station and Back Bay.

If you utilized alternate transportation for your inbound commute you may want to consider the same for your outbound travel to avoid the possibility of delay.

We are sorry for the many inconveniences you experience due to this situation and thank you for riding the commuter rail.

Commuter rail service information, including updated commuter rail advisories/alerts is available on the MBTA website at, or by calling the MBTA Customer Support Services Center at 617-222-3200.

This Morning's P500 Never Showed Up

Thanks to Gary for sharing the following! The P500 originates in Framingham and normally departs each weekday morning at 5:40 a.m.

Below please find the email sent MBTA/MBCR Commuter Rail Customer Comment forum.
This morning's P500 train out of Framingham never showed up. I understand that delays and breakdowns happen, what I fail to grasp is why the MBTA continues to struggle with letting passengers know what is going on.

I arrived at the Framingham station just after 5:30 this morning and immediately knew something was up when the train wasn't sitting there waiting for us, however, the lovely scrolling red signs was promising "all trains on or near schedule" as usual - unfortunately, it applied to yesterday's trains.

I waited a few minutes and then used my Blackberry to check the MBTA website for any service alerts or advisories. Framingham was listed with nothing. No alerts, no advisories. As it was now just a few minutes past our scheduled departure, it didn't bother me too much... yet.

To cut to the end of the ordeal - as you know, the 5:40am P500 train never showed up. We were never given any indication of the problem either by the signs at the station or by the MBTA website. In fact, the first (and only) notice we were given of the problem was when we boarded the next train into Boston (the P502) at around 6:30. The funny part is, the announcement that was given was not even intended for those of us that had been sitting at the Framingham station for an hour - it was instead directed at the regular passengers of the usually express P502 explaining to them why we needed now to make all the local stops on our way into Boston. Apparently the P500 had broken down - who knew?

Again - I understand that mechanical failures happen from time to time and I can accept that. What I cannot accept is the repeated failure of the MBTA to make even rudimentary attempts at notifying its passengers of delays and cancellations. I have written in the past about these frustrations and the inability of the MBTA to not only update, but coordinate the information available on the signs at the stations and on the website only the receive back responses that boil down to "well CSX controls this and we control that, etc. etc. etc" but seriously - I cannot believe that in the hour that we were standing at that station that not even one of the outlets available to us as passengers could have been updated to fill us in.

MetroWest Regional Transit Authority Announces a Route 9 Shuttle

Just read about this in an exclusive to the Worcester Business Journal.
The MetroWest Regional Transit Authority has received preliminary approval for a shuttle service along Route 9 that would run to and from the Green Line during morning and evening commuting hours, according to its administrator Ed Carr.
Funding still needs to be approved by the Federal Transit Administration and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation.

I think this is a great idea. Route 9 is a major transportation hub with a lot of companies located on it. If employees live in Boston but work on Route 9, commuting by the T may not make sense because it is really hard to get from a Green Line station to work.

Back in the late 1990s, I worked in Waltham. A lot of people I worked with lived in Boston, but they still drove to work as it was nearly impossible to use public transportation to get to work. The Waltham MBTA commuter rail station is located in downtown Waltham, a good distance away from the office parks that abut Route 128.

This will be an interesting development to watch.

Drove to Work This Morning

I drove to work this morning. I have plans after work and I heard there were a lot of issues this morning because a train on the South Side derailed last night and they were fixing it. While the Worcester-Framingham line was not impacted (as far as I know), the Greenbush, Fairmont and Middleborough trains were affected. One of my co-workers who commutes on the Worcester line said the P508 was on time.

The Boston Herald said that service was suspended this morning on the Fairmont line. Not a great way to close the week, huh?

In other train news, is reporting that Acton town officials are considering a solution to the overcrowded South Acton MBTA station parking lot. The lot only has 287 spaces and it is usually filled by 9 a.m. on most weekdays. The MBTA has offered to build a one-deck parking structure on top of the existing lot, which would add 184 more spaces. The T is looking to add 1,000 more spaces along the commuter rail system by 2011.

Finally, The Telegram & Gazette reports that the Worcester Regional Transportation Authority will spend $2.3 million to upgrade part of its aging bus fleet. The upgrades are part of a strategy to try to woe drivers to consider using the WRTA's buses. Seven full-size buses will be purchased. These are the first buses purchased by the WRTA since 2000. The WRTA, which serves 35 towns in Central Massachusetts, is also considering a developing a pass that can be used on both the MBTA and the WRTA.

The WRTA is trying to obtain a $29 million grant to purchase a hybrid bus. The grant submission was a group effort - the WRTA and the Brockton Regional Transit Authority, the Merrimack Valley Transit Authority, and the Greater Attleboro Transit Authority.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Upcoming Fitchburg Line Delays.

Received the following email yesterday from Fitchburg Rider. It is similar to the updates I mentioned in my first post this morning. Fitchburg Train Rider gave me permission to share this with Train Stopping's readers.

Thanks Fitchburg Rider for sharing your recent commuting experiences.
The had an article today about the FITCHBURG line delays in the works...

Last Friday, the 5 p.m. train out of Porter Square was more than 20 minutes late. When the train was ALREADY 10 minutes late, the kiosk in Porter Squarre said, Trains running on or near schedule. It did not say Late until the train was coming down the track!! This is once again utter incompetence.

Now, they say the Fitchburg line will ,"have no delays, some delays, and some could be up to 45 minutes.," according to Erin Blake, spokeswoman for MBCR. And next summer, the article says there will be even more delays due to an engineering project.

So now I can look forward to my 4-hour commute running to 4.5 hours per day until the end of September, and I will never know how late it will be, and you can be certain the light displays will give out no clues. So therefore, I cannot plan for the delays. The bad service just never seems to get any better, and only gets can they get away with it??

Fitchburg Rider

Wacky Weather Contributes to Commuting Woes

This weather is wreaking havoc on commuting.

Driving home in the rain last night took it took me about 1 hour, 45 minutes to drive from downtown Boston to the Route 146 exit on the Mass Pike.. The Pike really backs up at the 495 exit now, which I think is due to construction, but also the weather. I know that they are working on the ramps to exit 21 B/21 A, which is the Hopkinton/Upton exit.

This morning, the P508 train was on time to Grafton, but it was slow going from Ashland onwards to Boston. We ended up being about 10 minutes late this morning. Well, technically according to the schedule, we were only 7 minutes late (train arrived at 8:30 a.m. when scheduled arrival time is 8:23 a.m., but usually the train gets to South Station at 8:20 a.m.). At least we arrived only 10 minutes late, not like Tuesday's horrific commute.

Commuting seems to be growing as a hot-topic. I noticed on the business networking site LinkedIn that a reporter from the UK is looking for sources to speak about Utah's planned 4-day work week for their state employees. Today's The Boston Globe published another article about biking to work. This appeared on the front page of the print edition. I didn't know this: by law, bikes are considered vehicles in Massachusetts. Interesting.

Quite a few editorials/opinion pieces about transportation. Here is one about the Mass Pike (with the MBTA mentioned) from today's Yesterday The Globe published this editorial about transportation in and around Boston Harbor.

Back to some train news. The North Weekly's Starts & Stops column from today's Globe is all about railroad horns. WickedLocal Belmont mentions track work on the Fitchburg commuter rail line. Commuters of this line should expect delays through Monday, September 29th. OK - that explains all the Smart Route's delay updates this week about the Fitchburg line.
Train Numbers 417, 419, 421, 423, 465, 456, 418, 420, 422, 424, and 466 will be impacted by this outage. Delays of 20 to 35 minutes may be expected during this time.
That's it for now!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Drove to Work

I drove to work today. No, I didn't drive because of yesterday's endless commute. I actually have something outside of the city to do tonight after work. So it is easier for me to drive in so I can leave work and go directly to my event.

Traffic was light this morning. Even the backup that happens at the Newton toll on the Mass Pike at Route 128 didn't happen, nor did the backup from the Route 16 mergers. Ah, summertime driving can be so sweet sometimes!

I did take the P527/5:35 p.m. train home last night. The conductors made an announcement regarding all of the delays yesterday morning on the Worcester line. They explained the delays
and apologized to the passengers. I thought it was a good customer service move. We all understand that delays will happen. But we get riled up when the delays happen and there is no communication as to why the delays were happening.

As "Anonymous" mentioned in a comment, if you were caught up in yesterday's delays, submit an On-time Service Guarantee form to the MBTA. It may take 6 to 8 weeks to obtain your refund, but definitely submit for it. It is a good way to officially log service delays.

I'm still curious about one thing from yesterday - if the MBCR/MBTA sent buses out to stations on the Worcester-Framingham line, which stations did the buses go to?

Today's Sidekick in The Boston Globe ran a cute article about guzzling less gas. Nice, easy tips to implement if you're looking to cut your fuel consumption.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

MBCR RailMail About July 22nd Delays

I received the following email from the MBCR's RailMail service at approximately 11:30 a.m. today. It is nice to have an explanation as to why the Worcester line's trains were so messed up today. The only weird thing is . . . I didn't notice any buses at the Grafton station. I wonder what "Worcester stations" received the buses? Were they actually in the Worcester-vicinity or were they stations on the line closer to Boston?


MBCR would like to take this opportunity to both apologize and explain the delays that took place this morning on this line.

At approximately 6:10a.m. today train P502 experienced a mechanical problem at Southborough. The train crew was able to recover, after an 8 minute delay, and proceeded to Framingham.

Upon arrival at the Framingham station MBCR received word from the CSX dispatcher that they (CSX) were experiencing a system wide failure in their communications department. As this is the company who manages and dispatches this territory we are not allowed to operate our trains without the mandatory paperwork required by CSX; this paperwork is what enables trains to operate safely through that area. This outage left MBCR without the ability to operate trains either inbound or outbound to Worcester until the CSX system problem could be fixed. As a result, train P502 was held at Framingham to operate as an on-time P504 making all stops into Boston. The MBTA ordered 12 buses to enable passengers who board at the Worcester stations to travel between Framingham and Boston.

At approximately 7:43a.m. the CSX communications system was recovered and commuter rail service was able to resume at that time. Unfortunately, it created a cascade effect of delays as well as a cancelled train that would impede our ability to recover normal service for sometime thereafter.

We offer our sincere apologies to the passengers who had to ride into Boston without lights and air conditioning; however, if the choice is to cancel a scheduled trip, especially considering the CSX communication problem, or run the train without lights and air conditioning, the train will make its scheduled trip.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide you with this explanation and apology and thank you for riding the commuter rail.

If you wish to remove yourself from this mailing list, you can unsubscribe on our website at and click on the RailMail icon. Please do not reply to this system generated message.

What a Cluster!

Well, today certainly wasn't a great day to be a Worcester-Framingham line commuter rail rider!

When I got to the Grafton station, it seemed more crowded than usual. I checked my Blackberry and there were 3 alerts: 1 for the P502 (delayed) and 2 for the P504 (delayed by 20 minutes, then canceled outright). At 7:22 a.m., I received another update that the P508 was canceled and the next train from Worcester could expect delays of up to 20 minutes. The alerts alluded to a switching problem on the line somewhere.

So far, not so good.

When the P512 came (on time, around 7:50 a.m.), it was the usual train (5 single cars and 1 double decker car). But, due to earlier problems, this train now had to accommodate about 3 trains full of riders. By the time we got to Southborough (two stops from Grafton), there was hardly anywhere else to stand. At Ashland, I saw people left on the tracks, who couldn't even get on our train. We continued to make stops through Framingham, West Natick, Natick and the Wellesley's (this is the normal route for the P512). Our conductors did make announcements that due to a mechanical problem, the P508 had been canceled and that riders who wanted any Newton stops or the Yawkey stop needed to get off in Wellesley for the P514.

What I found interesting about this commute today: the conflicting information between MBTA Alerts, the conductors and the ticker boards at each stop, which basically said "there is a problem due to CSX."

We finally pulled into South Station at around 9:25 a.m. this morning. I got to my desk at 9:45 a.m. Yikes! published the following article about how the rising cost of gas and the current real estate situation is impacting Americans in Denver, Southern California and Virginia.

Tuesday's News

Trains, State Funding and Being Green. That sums up this morning's news round-up.

A Letter to the Editor of The Boston Globe from the Executive Director of the MBTA's Advisory Board leads today's news. Paul Regan wrote in response to last week's articles about the Big Dig's budget excess. During the project, the T received commitment to pay off some elements. Now the T is in its own budgetary crisis, so Regan is calling on the state to intervene.

Amtrak's Downeaster train service, operating between Portland, ME and Boston, is reporting record ridership gains. Daily, 947 passengers take the train between the two port cities. Ticket revenue has grown 33% in 2008, attributed to the rising cost of gas. The Downeaster operates five round-trips daily and they are looking to add a sixth trip.

Finally, a little late to the game, The Globe ran an article on the front page of its Business section about 4-day work weeks.

Monday, July 21, 2008

First Post-Vacation Commute

Hello Train Stopping readers! I'm back from my business trip and vacation.

My first commute in 1 1/2 weeks was good. The train arrived right on time at 7:09 a.m. this morning and we were at South Station at 8:19. I did get squished in my seat from Ashland on all the way to Boston, which was rather uncomfortable. This person also decided to read his paper without folding it backwards, so kept extending his arms basically right in my face. It was weird too, as there seemed to be plenty of open seats in my P508 car. Oh well . . . back to the status quo I guess!!!

Did anyone catch the cover story from yesterday's Boston Sunday Globe Magazine? It was all about car pooling. Commute-a-holic was part of a vanpool from the Millbury Exit 11 Mass Pike park and ride to Post Office Square in downtown Boston in the early 90s. An interesting article.

Along the lines of seeking out an alternative commute, today's Boston Globe Sidekick ran an article about biking to work.

From the Nashua Telegraph, more about New Hampshire's efforts to obtain train service to Boston. This could be a beneficial extension, but the onus to fund this needs to be on New Hampshire (notorious for not paying for things) and not Massachusetts.

Here is a roundup of other stories:

Thursday, July 17, 2008

New Union Station Garage

Today's Telegram & Gazette featured an article about the new municipal garage abutting Union Station in Worcester.

Most of the article focused on the Franklin Street underpass.

Mass Transit Demands Have US Cities Scrambling

Driving to work this morning, I heard on the WXLO traffic report that there was an accident at the Rt. 140 - Rt. 30 intersection in North Grafton. I hope none of the Train Riders who use the Grafton station were involved in the accident. I also hope no one was delayed as a result of the accident.

Yesterday published an article titled "U.S. cities scrambling to meet rising mass transit demands." Even areas of our country that are very car-centric have been reporting a surge in the use of mass transit. The MBTA was mentioned:
For example, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which is currently operating at capacity during peak periods, ordered more subway cars, buses and coaches for its commuter rail.
The article didn't really share anything new, but it is interesting to see transportation become a major issue. The article did reference iReport, which is interested in having commuters across the US share their commuting stories.

It is really a shame that mass transit has taken a back seat in public policy over the past 50-55 years. Our nation was so focused on using the automobile to get to and from places, that we ignored public transit. At least Boston is lucky - they didn't remove all of our train lines (though Worcester and Greenbush are new versions of older lines).

Along the lines of Boston's retirement of some train lines back in the 1950s, The Weekly Dig has a current article about how some South Coast cities and towns have been trainless since 1959. It gives the history of trying to resurrect train service to New Bedford, Fall River and other South Coast localities.

While we're on the subject of the South Coast Rail Project, reports on the ongoing evaluation of station sites for the line.

Today's Boston Metro had an interesting article regarding the state's bailout of the Mass Pike. The question: "If the Pike gets bailed out, what about the T?"

Finally, if you're looking for a fee-less ATM when you get off the train, then the Select-A-Branch ATM Network is your answer. Ten S-A-B ATMS have been installed in MBTA commuter rail stations around the Boston area. Read about it in this press release from Tuesday.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Interestate 495

From today's Worcester Business Journal, an article about a study of I-495 and five other area roads.

By 2030, it is anticipated that population growth will increase by 17% and job growth will increase by 30% in eight towns that abut 495: Berlin, Bolton, Hopkinton, Hudson, Marlborough, Northborough, Southborough, and Westborough. Hence, the purpose of the study.

The study is being conducted by the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

Red Line Woes; New Garage in Worcester

Yikes! There was a three-hour delay during yesterday's morning rush hour on the Red Line. Due to issues related to the Longfellow Bridge, the Red Line can only cross the Charles River at 10 miles an hour.

Here is what The Boston Globe had to say:
The service delays and confusion come as the T is experiencing significant growth as a result of rising gas prices. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority managers have acknowledged they need good customer service and reliability to keep new passengers and accommodate the larger crowds.

Yesterday's delay was caused when a piece of track-aligning equipment being used for overnight maintenance malfunctioned on the Longfellow, said Lydia Rivera, a T spokeswoman.

Delays lasted from 5 a.m., when the T opened, until just after 8 a.m., forcing commuters onto shuttle buses between Park Street and Harvard stations.

The delays can be attributed to some construction work on the Longfellow Bridge. The T is performing regular track maintenance work overnights and on the weekend. The Department of Conservation and Recreation is trying to fix some structural changes on the bridge. The structural issue is the reason that the Red Line has to travel across the bridge at a reduced speed. Combined, these events have increased one-way trips on the Red Line by 3 to 4 minutes, but other things can cause the delays to go up to 5 to 6 minutes.

Commuters are concerned at the increased amount of delays on the Red Line. Some commuters were quoted that they've been late to work anywhere from 6 to 12 times this summer. Hopefully employers understand.

In other news, the new Union Station garage opened in Worcester this week. I read about it last night in yesterday's Telegram & Gazette. If you have a monthly commuter rail pass, parking will be $42 a month. It is $100 a month without a commuter rail pass. The garage will be open from 5:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. There is a $2 per hour rate for a maximum charge of $8.

I noticed the garage on Friday night, after leaving KJ Baaron's Friday Night wine tasting. It looks like a nice garage.

Finally, The Eagle-Tribune published an editorial today about the proposed Northern Massachusetts-NH commuter rail line extension. I agree with the sentiments - the rail extension should not occur if New Hampshire does not contribute to its funding. We have areas within Massachusetts that would like to see mass transit. Why should the Commonwealth fund a system that would directly benefit New Hampshire if NH doesn't end up make a relevant contribution?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Trains Can't Be Beat"

Interesting article from the July 21, 2008 issue of Newsweek. Here are some highlights:
There are signs the strategy is working. Over the past two years, Amtrak's ridership has increased almost 17 percent systemwide. And the recent spike in gas prices has pushed train ridership to capacity on some routes. A hefty funding package for improvements is currently up for debate in Washington, and Amtrak is already exploring ways to enhance service along popular routes. But getting the system up to speed is a tall order.

Since the 1950s, America's vast inter-state highway system and love of the automobile has contributed to a gradual deterioration of its railroads—just as most of Europe and parts of Asia have been investing in swift and comfortable long-range trains. But duplicating those foreign systems here is not simple. Private freight railroads own most of the tracks Amtrak uses, so a broad expansion of the railways would require hundreds of billions of dollars in new infrastructure and decades of eminent domain lawsuits to acquire private lands. "We never invested in quality passenger rail travel like other countries," says Joseph Sussman, a professor of engineering and systems at MIT. "It's almost impossible that the American network could ever be able to mirror those ultra-efficient models around the world."

An expansive new system may not be in the cards, but the recent increased interest does signal hope for Amtrak to grow, especially along routes between cities that are too close to fly and, with high gas costs, too long and pricey to drive. A few hundred million dollars in improvements could bring certain routes to acceptable levels, according to Amtrak. Routes connecting Chicago to St. Paul, Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C., and San Diego to Los Angeles could replicate the speedy transit of the prized Northeast Corridor, where sleek trains running on newer tracks allow speeds up to 150 miles per hour in some zones, according to Amtrak CEO Alex Kummant. New rail cars and tracks would surely help, but trains could also run faster with newer signals installed at crossroads to stop traffic earlier. Improving station conditions in rural areas would also make the service feel more comfortable and contemporary.
For train enthusiasts, it will be interesting to see how Amtrak evolves. Those who believe that the government should not give further economic assistance to Amtrak think that private companies could operate a more efficient system. It is interesting that our nation never nationalized air travel, yet we did nationalize our train system.

Amtrak has been in the news a lot lately. The train system just announced that they have renamed the regional service on the Northeast Corridor as the Northeast Regional. And as the Newsweek article noted, ridership is up.

Lovely Mid-Month Morning

Wow. What a difference in air quality between yesterday morning and today. Yesterday - humid, muggy and gross. Today - beautiful.

Since Train Rider is on vacation, I do not have any commuter rail updates to share. I did find two articles this morning. The Gloucester Daily Times published an article about the renovation of the Rockport MBTA station.

In other news, it looks like the Herald has decided to get back on the beat of writing damning articles about the MBTA. The normally verbose (when it comes to political patronage) Herald staff has been pretty quiet over the past few months. But with last week's gas-gate story about how MBTA GM Dan Grabauskas doesn't commute on the commuter rail, it looks like the tabloid-size paper is back to reporting about the less desirable elements of the MBTA. Today there is a commentary about the T's benefits packages. What is the take-away from this commentary: the T is an organizational headache.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Humid Bastille Day

Happy Bastille Day. Boy is it humid here in Massachusetts, huh?

Train Rider is on vacation this week. I'll be posting news articles related to the MBTA/MBCR. If you would like to share any commuting updates, feel free to email me at commuteaholic AT

In yesterday's Boston Sunday Globe there was an article about proposed public transportation stations that could service the New Bedford and Fall River area of the state. Twenty-five rail and bus stations are being studied, along with one highway corridor that would be used for rapid bus service.

Yesterday The Eagle-Tribune published two articles about similar expansion public transportation efforts in northern Massachusetts/Southern New Hampshire. This article is about a rail expansion to Plaistow, NH and this article is about I-93 transportation alternatives.

Friday, July 11, 2008

BBJ Poll - What Would it Take for You to Use the T

The Boston Business Journal frequently publishes weekly "Business Pulse" polls on various business topics.

The question for 6/26/2008 was "Is it T time for you? - What would it take to get you on the MBTA?"

The most popular response (47% of this unscientific poll): More frequent commuter trains, buses.

The second most popular response - 20% said more parking at stations.

Along with the poll, participants could submit comments. A lot of the comments touched upon the inefficiencies of the entire MBTA system, the fact that there aren't frequent enough trains - especially on the Worcester line, the lack of consistent communications to commuters, the poor conditions of both the cars and the stations, lack of parking at suburban stations, the fact that the T doesn't reach where someone lives (such as Roslindale and the 495 loop), and the fact you can't depend on the service.

Here are some interesting comments:
also, for the sporadic--not daily--user of the greenline, an easier way to pay not involving a Charlie Card would be a true attraction!!

Parking at or near stations has always been an issue, but my problem is my workplace is nowhere near a commuter rail stop. If it was, I'd be taking the train in a New York minute! I used to when I worked right on Comm Ave and it was a lifesaver. It's crazy to drive if the T/commuter rail can get you there.

Subway service is abysmal. In the morning, three outbound trains often go by before an inbound train arrives (C&D lines). Or a train will pass a stop without taking on passengers because it's running late (who's fault is that?). Service is neither rapid nor reliable.

Faster trains stopping every other station. Like and odd even train and stations: odd trains to odd station and even to even. It would make them at least 33% faster not to mention the wear and tear on the trains.

Commuter trains need to have more frequent schedules and later trains! The Greenbush line last train is 10pm during the week, and many times that's just too early if I'm meeting with clients or coworkers for dinner.

I live in Westborough and do not take the commuter rail because the trains do not run early enough for me.

We also need to have simple things such as electronic notice boards informing commuters about the expected wait time until the next train arrives.

Ridership would increase with more dependable trains and more comfortable cars.

The commuter trains and subways have to be more convenient than driving, and right now, it is not.

We need more frequent and faster service on the the lines, but especially the Worcester line. While the region doesn't have the density of NYC, having no mid morning, no afternoon service and no reverse commute makes it so much easier to get into the car and drive. The fact the MBTA brought the line's on time record to its current point by adding 20 minutes to a 40 mile train ride is inexcusable.

The conditions of MBTA stations, trains, buses, & personnel are horrendous. The stations are inhospitable. Certain choices made by the T boggle the mind. For example the newer bus shelters designed for looks not function provide almost no protection and were a waste of money. The long drawn-out T revamping projects in various stations, i.e.,the Kenmore and Arlington Street Stations have drawn on for years now and actually impress me as public relations and public safety nightmares. Those projects unnecessarily clog city streets, rarely are contractors or workers seen there doing anything!?!?! T Employees are cantankerous, entitled, and often arrogant. Uniformly through out the systems facilities the public address speaker system and lack of diction and clarity by announcers is unprofessional and annoying. The inefficiency of schedules and the inability of the T management to guarantee timeliness is the primary reason I don't ride the T. Time is money, and if the T can't make good time and make good on the too high fares riders deposit or spend on T cards, what is the point of using the service. If one pays for a service, one expects good service in return. Always wondering when and where there will be a breakdown, a delay without warning or explanation is frustrating. My 40+ years of experience, time and time again, with the MBTA results in frustration, lost time, anxiety, lost opportunities and is simply not worth it. I'd rather drive, walk, or bike and assure my success at arriving where I need to be in a timely fashion rather than hazard the oft unreliable transportation travesty that is called the T.

Replacing MBTA management with chimpanzees to improve efficiencies such as more parking at stations, more comfortable train cars, and more frequent service would increase ridership. The political hacks currently running the T are an embarrassment.

Taking the commuter rail round trip adds 2 hours to my day. Gas will have to be a lot more expensive that $5/gallon before I give up 10 hours of my week.

There are 6 pages of comments. The feedback is interesting - especially if you care about public transportation.

If you can't tell, I'm still steaming about Dan Grabauskas' "well I can't take the T because the times are inconvenient." If I were running the T and I knew that there was public demand, I would start to see how we could meet the public's demand. Because at the end of the day, the T is here to serve the public, as are all public entities.

Below is a snapshot of the polls' results.

I don't know how Train Rider and I missed this? Perhaps we can blame the July 4th festivities.

No MBTA Fare Hikes in 2009

The MBTA's monthly board of directors meeting took place yesterday. According to reports in both The Boston Globe and The Boston Herald, state Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen confirmed that there are no plans to raise fares for the MBTA's subway, bus, commuter boat, and commuter rail service in 2009. The T does need to find ways to cover approximately $175 million in additional wages/back pay increases and rising energy costs.

The Globe noted the following:
Debt relief from the Legislature is the only viable solution to the mounting budgetary problems, said Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, which represents the cities and towns served by the T.
There was an additional article in yesterday's Globe about how Secretary Cohen would like to accelerate the deployment of new Orange Line and Red Line subway cars.

In other news, The Herald also published an article about Dan "I may run the T but don't expect me to use the system" Grabauskas' commuting habits.
Secretary of Transportation Bernard Cohen urged T General Manager Dan Grabauskas to take the T to work yesterday after a Herald article detailed the T chief using his agency-owned SUV for the commute.
Urged. What about mandate that Grabauskas commute on the T?

This is another priceless comment from the T. Does this agency have absolutely no respect for the people who use and rely on their services?
Grabauskas’ spokesman Joe Pesaturo brushed off the statement. “That’s always been the message from the T,” Pesaturo said, adding, “We encourage anyone who can take the T to take the T.”

While the T might not be good enough for Danny G., at least some of the MBTA Board members say they use the system.
Several MBTA board members, who met yesterday to discuss a debt crisis at the struggling agency, said they are able to use public transportation.

Darnell Williams, who lives in Boston, said he takes the T three to four times a week. Anthony Campo said he takes the train in from Milton a couple of days a week.

Joe Trolla also said he takes the T, although he didn’t specify how often. MBTA board member Grace Shepard admits she doesn’t use the T.

“I live nowhere near it,” Shepard said. “I think that anyone who can use it, should. That’s the goal, to make it accessible.”

Only Frank Chin, who said he always takes the T, echoed Cohen’s statements that everyone should be riding.

Once again - instead of just using the MBTA as a political patronage dumping grounds, the state should mandate that the MBTA Board members actually be people who purchase passes and use the system. Because, otherwise, I don't think the Board members are qualified to run the T.

There are other state agencies with Board of Directors actually do mandate that the board members engage in a specific activity. Because, if a board member isn't actively using or engaging with the agency they are overseeing, then how can they understand the daily issues faces the organization?

Governor Patrick, who doesn't have the best approval rating, could actually gain some positive press if he made a few mandates. Like Danny G. - either use the train OR lose your job. That's an easy choice. Your Escape Hybrid SUV will be waiting in a parking space at the State Transportation Building if you need it. If there is an emergency. But maybe the issue isn't just that Danny-boy needs to drive to work. Maybe he "works" from home a lot. Well then, problem solved. If he works from home and there is an issue, he'll just have to use his own vehicle.

According to the Boston Phoenix, Grabauskas' commuting habits is an "old news" story, first reported on in 2006 by The Boston Sunday Globe Magazine and Commonwealth. STILL - commuting issues are a lot more urgent today than two years ago. It wasn't acceptable then and it is not acceptable now.

Wow. My blood is boiling. The whole concept that the head of the agency in charge of running the major mass transit system in Massachusetts doesn't even use the system is just plain insulting.

The Mass Pike is facing budget woes. Here is a report from WBZ-TV.

If air travel is running smoothly, Train Rider should be somewhere over the Atlantic, flying towards Boston.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

MBTA GM Dan Grabauskas Opts to Not Use the T

I kid you not. You cannot make this up!

Seriously, only the Herald would dare report on this. An article in today's Boston Herald profiles how the MBTA's General Manager, Dan Grabauskas, commutes to work. While he is encouraging everyone else to use the T, Dan actually commutes from Ipswich to Boston in an MBTA-owned Ford Escape hybrid.

Wow. What a great way to support the system you lead. That's like working for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and having Tufts Health Insurance or working for Citizens' Bank but keeping your own personal account at Bank of America. What the heck, Dan.

I don't want to turn this into a "beat up on Dan Grabauskas" rant, but if he works at the State Transportation building, why can't he take the MBTA/MBCR's commuter rail into work and keep his state vehicle in the parking garage at 10 Park Plaza? This comment just reeks of arrogance:
In an interview yesterday, Grabauskas argued he needs the SUV, in part to respond to emergencies, such as the Green Line train crash last month in which a trolley driver was killed.
I worked at 10 Park Plaza - there are plenty of parking spaces available for the heads of the agencies who's offices are in the building.

Does this comment mean Dan really doesn't care about the commuter rail or commuter boat passengers:
“I do try to set an example by using the T within the city, but my schedule tends to be erratic. I need to be able to go anywhere at all times,” he said.

And again, this is utterly priceless:

As for driving to Lowell to promote his Dump the Pump campaign, Grabauskas said taking the commuter train there and back to Ipswich would have taken too long. The message of Dump the Pump, he added, is to encourage people with less demanding schedules to take the T.

“I can’t think of a quicker or easier way for me to get anywhere in the city than by bus or by subway, and it’s certainly easier for some folks to take the commuter rail,” Grabauskas said. “I try to do that as much as I can.”

Of course, commuters interviewed were flabbergasted that the person who is in charge of mass transit in Massachusetts pretty much shuns the service.

Another Ipswich commuter, Sue King, agreed. “Jeesh, you’d think he would be taking the train,” King said. “Of all people, he should be setting an example.”

King takes the hourlong ride from Ipswich to North Station about three times a week. The trip takes 15 minutes more than Grabauskas’ commute and costs her $7 round-trip each day.

The MBTA Board meets today. There is a possibility that both fares and parking rates will be increased, which probably doesn't surprise anyone with the state of gas and the decrease in gas taxes collected by the state because people aren't filling up as much.

The Herald closed with this ditty:
Grabauskas, who earns a salary of $255,000 a year, struck a deal this week with T workers that will give them a 13 percent pay raise over the next four years.

The $150 million agreement adds to mounting financial woes burdening the T, which is reeling from soaring fuel and electricity costs and stagnant state aid even as ridership has hit new highs.

Should Grabauskas permanently park his SUV, he would not be the first powerful public official to ride the T. Former Gov. Michael Dukakis took the Green Line from his Brookline home to the State House every day. Ditto his longtime Transportation secretary, Fred Salvucci.

Well, I don't think our Governor is taking using public transit to commute in from Milton (Former Governor Dukakis lived in Brookline while he was governor, so that is a bit easier of a commute). Why can't they find someone to run the T who actually is a public transit advocate? Dan seems more and more like a fat-cat political appointee.

In other news, yesterday the T had a PR event that went bust. Here is the article from today's Boston Globe.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

MBTA Retirement Benefits

My normal commute was pretty horrible today. I travel approximately 12 miles to work (round trip being a 24 mile drive). My commute is on back roads and a state high way. During the school year, my commute is slower because of school buses. But school vacation weeks and summers are typical drama free. Not today. Something happened somewhere because traffic was backed-up worse than the Mass Pike on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I was eventually able to inch my way to a point where I could turn off and take even more back roads to work. All in all I wasn't that late, which is good. I just hope someone wasn't seriously hurt this morning.

The news front in train land is still pretty quiet. Today, The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald and the Metro all wrote about the new MBTA retirement benefits package. Here are links to each article:

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Sacramento's Urban Planning Experiment

Train Rider should be somewhere over the Atlantic right now, flying to London for a quick two-day meeting.

The news on the MBTA/MBCR front has been pretty quiet. I think a lot of people are out on vacation this week. At least, that's what the traffic reports want you to believe. Until you hit an accident or some other traffic stoppage, the roads are pretty empty. Which is nice.

I read an article in yesterday's The Wall Street Journal about Sacramento, CA's seven-year urban planning experiment. Since a lot of the content in the WSJ is subscription-only, you may not be able to link to the article.

Urban planners are looking to Sacramento to see if their urban plan, which is now in its 7th year, can be copied and used in other US cities. It does seem sort of strange that a "model" plan is coming from a state more synonymous with freeways, limited public transportation, horrible traffic, suburban sprawl and smog, but I guess we have to start somewhere.

Sacramento is following a "smart growth" model. Here are some excerpts from the article:
For decades, backers of "smart-growth" planning principles have preached the benefit of clustering the places where people live more closely with the businesses where they work and shop. Less travel would mean less fuel consumption and less air pollution.

Sacramento -- yoked to the car and mired in one of the lousiest housing markets in the country -- offers an intriguing laboratory for that idea. Four years ago, just as oil was gaining momentum in its torrid climb to $140 a barrel and beyond, the six-county region adopted a plan for growth through 2050 that roped off some areas from development while concentrating growth more densely in others, emphasizing keeping jobs near homes.

Between 2004 and 2007, the number of projects with apartments, condominiums and town houses for sale in the region increased by 533%, while the number of subdivisions with homes on lots bigger than 5,500 square feet fell by 21%, according to housing-research firm Hanley Wood Market Intelligence.

While the project isn't perfect, they are seeing some benefits. It will be interesting to see what ends up happening due to related transportation costs.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Last Week's P523 Train

Over the weekend I received this email from Grafton Train Rider regarding some delays last week related to the P523 train. Here is the email:
Dear Train Rider,

I took P523 home on Monday from Back Bay (walked from Cambridge). The train arrived 25 minutes late - at least there was an announcement of a delay. The train ended up arriving to Grafton 44 minutes late since our express train followed the Framingham local, P525. The MBTA would have likely not lost revenue from late train submissions if P525 had been delayed a few minutes to allow boarding of the express train first. Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?

Well, anyway, the conductor on P502 inbound (she is also assigned to P519 outbound) the next day told me that there was no equipment available at South Station - likely due to a breakdown. Thus, I believe that is why P529 was assigned as all single-level cars as substitute equipment. Sounds like South Station was pretty chaotic on June 30.

Let's hope that July is not too hot so we don't have too many speed restrictions.

Grafton Train Rider
In regards to last week's post about the changes at Union Station, Grafton Train Rider also shared this:
I read the blurb in Worcester Magazine about the new restaurant proposed for Union Station - sounds promising. Hey, if you are looking for other things to do in that area, check out this liquor store - just across from the rotary They also have Monday night single malt scotch nights. Best to subscribe to their calendar.

Introducing Muni Manners

I received an email over the weekend from the creators of Muni Manners, an etiquette guide for users of San Francisco's Muni System(Municipal Transportation Agency).

While some of the content is certainly specific to that Left Coast city on the bay, there are definitely etiquette issues that can be applied to Boston. So go check it out!

Hi Commute-a-holic,

As West Coast fans of Train Stopping, we couldn't resist calling your attention to our new blog With more and more people around the world riding transit, we felt it was time to introduce some simple 'rules of the road' into our daily commutes. We noticed your recent entry regarding commuter rail ridership increases in the Boston area and it seems that your readers might enjoy a refresher course with our etiquette rules as we all aim for a safe and courteous ride on transit!

In our first month, we received great traffic along with features from blogs across the country and a spotlight on CBS's Eye on Blogs. So as you have your morning coffee, take a drive by Muni Manners and check us out. We've got a lot of great rules in store and we'd love for you to help us share the word.

Smooth riding,

SF Muni Ladies

Post-4th Workday Commute

Today is "welcome back to work day," huh? I hope everyone had a great 4th of July holiday.

My first commute of the week was a good one. The P508 was right on time. We arrived to South Station at 8:19 a.m.

I know the Boston Business Journal published an article in Friday's edition related to public transportation in Boston. Unfortunately, most of this article is accessible online only if you have a subscription to the BBJ. Of interest to myself and others. . .
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s system of 12 rail lines stretching from Worcester to Haverhill to Kingston is lagging behind other system components when it comes to ridership growth despite the rising cost of gas, toll hikes and daily traffic jams on the highways.
The BBJ said that while the MBTA's bus lines and subway ridership has increased substantially over last year, the commuter rail's growth "was up a modest 2.6 percent this May compared to 2007, but year to date numbers are up 1.2 percent."

I'll be off the train for about 1 1/2 weeks. I'm headed off to Europe for a business meeting this week. Next week I'm on vacation. During my absence, please feel free to contact Commute-a-holic if you would like to contribute updates on your MBTA/MBCR commuter rail commutes. You can reach Commute-a-h0lic at commuteaholic AT

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Buy Before You Board!!

Funny, I just got this email from MBCR regarding the "Buy Before You Board" program, which I just mentioned in my previous post:

Buy Before You Board!!

Beginning Monday July 7, 2008, all customers will be asked to present their pass, 12 ride or single ride tickets for inspection to a team of Conductors prior to boarding their train. Customers without tickets will be directed back to the ticket office to buy their ticket.

MBCR is continually striving toward customer satisfaction, and in an effort to respond to fare collection concerns received from you, our passengers, we will be working together with our Conductors and Assistant Conductors in identifying trains that need more resources. We are launching this campaign to encourage all customers to purchase tickets prior to boarding trains at South, North and Back Bay Stations.

What can you do to help!

1. Arrive in a timely manner at the Ticket Office to buy your ticket/pass prior to boarding your train.
2. Have your ticket/pass/12-Ride in hand to show the pre-boarding ticket team as you pass through the barrier to board your train.
3. Be prepared to also show your ticket to the train crew once on board.
4. We will strictly enforce the application of the surcharge if you do not buy before boarding.

We would like to thank you in advance for your cooperation during these pre-boarding checks.

“Buy Before you Board”
Tickets purchased on board are more expensive (surcharge will be applied)

Pre-Independence Day Commute

This morning's commute on the p508 was nice and easy ... train arrived in Grafton at 7:09 and we were at South Station at 8:19. It was not as crowded today as it has been all week, I'll bet a lot of folks are getting a jump start on the long weekend by taking today off.

It looks like high gas prices are also putting the screws to the MBTA. While ridership is up across bus, subway and commuter rail lines, the higher cost of gas is costing the MBTA over $28 million extra, money that is currently not budgeted.

According to a report on Channel 5's website, riders now fear the MBTA may consider cutting services or will institute another fare hike. A member of the T's advisory board said fares only make up 30 percent of the agency's revenue and most of its funds come from the sales tax. The problem is, fuel expenses are just too high right now. The MBTA's Rider Oversight Committee is also concerned, so much so that it plans to send a letter to the governor and legislators blowing the horn on a possible budget derailment.

It's interesting to note that the majority of revenues for the MBTA come from the state sales tax ... I was able to find some information in the 2009 budget about the sales tax, its importance for the MTBA budget and the debt load shouldered by the MBTA:

Sales tax revenue, our largest source of revenue, has grown less than expected and has not met even the most pessimistic minimums assumed at the start of forward funding. Sales tax growth in the 10 years prior to the enactment of forward funding saw an average annual increase of 6.5%. Since 2001 it has averaged only 1.6%. A shortfall of $200 million has required more reliance on debt financing to fund a significant portion of the capital program as well as providing less revenue for the operating budget. The debt burden we carry is perhaps one of the highest in the industry. Total debt outstanding is over $5 billion. Annual principal and interest payments consume more than 26% of revenues and will continue to grow without some type of relief. Left un-checked, the debt burden will limit our ability to provide the quality and quantity of service our customers expect.

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the Authority is the expected rise in principal and interest costs over the next several years. With the continued slow growth in the dedicated sales tax revenue, these costs will consume an ever increasing amount of revenue each year. Unless corrected or mitigated, this will compromise the Authority’s ability to continue to provide the service levels funded in the Fiscal 2009 budget in future years.

In other news, I've seen billboards in South Station for a new program called "Buy Before You Board." I was able to find some information on regarding this new ticketing procedure for the commuter rail. Over the next few weeks, MBTA officials plan to test a new ticket-purchasing procedure at three commuter rail stations heading outbound, to measure the best way to collect fares. This campaign will require commuter rail passengers to buy tickets before they board the train, rather than from a conductor on board. The campaign will rotate shifts at the North, South, and Back Bay stations. A spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co. said officials have received complaints that conductors during rush hour do not have time to collect all tickets on board, allowing some passengers to ride for free.

I think this is a step in the right direction, especially for us monthly pass holders who feel that we get short shifted when passes/tickets aren't collected. I would like to give props to the conductors on the p529/6:15 PM train last night ... although all of the aisles were mobbed (our train was 5 single cars instead of the usual 5 double/1 single) ... they collected passes from everyone.

Have a safe and happy 4th everyone!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

4th of July Holiday Schedule

In case things get crazy in the office tomorrow . . . or in case you're not in the office tomorrow . . . the T has announced the schedules for the 4th of July holiday.

The MBCR RailMail system sent out the following reminder:

JULY 4, 2008

All commuter trains will operate on a Saturday Schedule, and no fares will be collected after 10:30PM.

The MBTA's website has more information about specific train schedule. A number of outbound trains, departing from both North Station and South Station, will be held until after the annual fireworks display over the Charles River.

If you are planning to go into Boston to celebrate the Independence Day holiday, do consider public transportation.

Happy Birthday #232 America!!!

Utah First State to Institute a 4-Day Work Week

Check out the Bee Hive state (so named to symbolize "industry and the pioneer virtues of thrift and perseverance"). Perhaps this is an aptly appropriated state nickname. Don't know what I'm talking about? I'm speaking of Utah, our 45th state.

So why all the noise about Utah? Well Utah just announced that they will become the first state in the union to implement a mandatory 4-day workweek for their state employees. USA Today reported on this announcement yesterday. Utah's Governor, Jon Huntsman, a first-term Republican gave the following reasons for moving to a 4-day workweek:
To reduce the state's carbon footprint, increase energy efficiency, improve customer service and provide workers more flexibility.

"The reaction (from the public) has been very much a willingness to give this a go," he says.

Roughly 80% of the state's public workforce of 17,000 employees will be affected. The mandate will not apply to public universities, the state's court system, state prisons, and other critical services.

State offices will remain open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and more than 800 of Utah's state-run services are available online.

The new schedule will go into effect on August 4th. Utah is working with their employees to address issues concerning child-care and public transportation needed to accommodate a longer workday.

Utah hopes the new schedule will help the state reach its goal of reducing energy 20% by 2015.

And an added fringe benefit:
Beyond the energy and financial implications, the four-day work week is a quality-of-life issue for many. Huntsman says it is especially popular among younger employees and that his action will make Utah more competitive in luring talent.
As I've mentioned, I would love to be able to access my town and other state offices outside of the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. timeframe that most Massachusetts municipal and state offices are open. It would be great if I could stop by my town hall before heading into work or knowing that I can still reach an open office if I were to leave work early.

The article noted that a lot of city and county governments offer a four-day workweek and some states also offer it as an option to their employees.

Rex Facer, an assistant professor at Bringham Young University who is studying the four-day work week concept, made the following remarks:
Facer expects more cities to begin shuttering offices on Fridays. "The increasing pressures the American is facing around gas prices is certainly a significant factor, and the overall fiscal pressures governments are facing in general," he says.
Instead of Utah's innovated extension of office hours, some public entities may address the four-day work week by shutting down their offices on Fridays. I would think that this might limit the publics' ability to engage in local and state business, since a lot of people tend to take Fridays off for personal days or errand days.

So why are local governments offering the four-day workweek? With fiscal budgets severely limited, they can't offer raises to their employees. A four-day workweek is like a bonus. And if an entire department can be shut down for one day, they save on operating costs associated with keeping an office open.

I know there are the naysayers who feel that four-day workweeks do not help with conservation efforts, but I disagree with that.

First - you do notice a reduction in traffic when there are major holidays that not every company grants. The reduction is rush hour traffic, alone, is a big reason four-day workweeks should be considered.

Second - people have a tendency to use less energy at home because they have to pay for it. I know this doesn't apply to everyone, but in my house we keep our AC lower during the day (even when we are home) and we make sure not to use major appliances like our washer or dishwasher during prime energy hours. We're also more mindful with "supplies" we buy. It isn't that we all try to waste energy in our offices, but since we don't have to pay for heat, AC, electricity, office supplies, etc., we don't really think about the ramifications for not turning off a light or for keeping an office AC at 60 degrees.

Third - I've been in the workforce for over 20 years. With the exception of retail jobs I had when I was in high school, I've never worked "just" a 40-hour workweek. I think 40-hour workweeks just don't exist anymore. Even when I worked for a public agency AND for a nonprofit, I logged in far more than the normal 40-hours. So I would love for the ability to have a mandated four-day week just to gain an extra day in my life back. Maybe I don't cringe at the thought of working a 10-hour day because most of my work days already clock in at 10-hours. I wouldn't even care if my "off" day was a Tuesday, a Wednesday or a Thursday. I could get chores down and benefit from having an "off day" off. Maybe I'm in the minority here.

I would love for Massachusetts' cities and towns to explore cost-saving measures that could bring a positive effect to both employees and the citizens that the public offices support.